Reviewed: March 24, 2004
Released: February 10, 2004
The time was 1984, the gaming system was an Atari 800 computer with a 5” floppy drive, the game was Archon. Yes, those were the good old days of geek-filled college nights where we gathered around the computer and fought for supremacy in one of the most original variations of chess we had ever seen.
Despite countless variations of animated chess in games like BattleChess and the ChessMaster series nothing has ever tried to blend arcade action with the strategic nature of chess until now. Wrath Unleashed mixes the battlefield strategy of hexagonal maps, and various playing pieces that must follow their respective movement rules, but when it comes down to taking control over a hex traditional tier-structured rules are out the door and this innovative game takes on a fighting element that screams “arcade”.
Wrath Unleashed even comes with a story, complete with sexy, scantily clad deities vying for ultimate control over the universe. I was reminded of the scenes in Clash of the Titans were the gods on Mount Olympus were playing with miniature figures representing real-life characters down on Earth.
And that is how Wrath Unleashed unfolds, as a giant game of the gods. You pick your chosen deity based on the alignments of light and dark and are assigned a unique set of playing pieces representing one of the four elements (earth, wind, fire, water) . Then it’s off to the battlefield where you try to defeat your chosen opponent.
Rules, rules, rules. Wrath Unleashed is rather complicated for a traditional turn-based strategy game. There are multiple pieces that have various movement restrictions. Some pieces can fly while other can teleport and others are restricted to moving on consecutive hexes. Each piece has their favored element so they either fight at a plus or minus (or neutral) depending on the elements found on the hex you are fighting for.
When a game starts there is the initial movement phase were you and the computer strategically position your pieces, trying to take control of temples and mana wells, which become increasingly important when you want your chosen god to start casting spells. Sooner or later you will start to engage the enemy with your playing pieces and things really take off then.
Movement is handled quite naturally. You pick the piece and all of the available hexes light up and are outlined in bold so you know how far you can move that piece. Moving onto an occupied hex will trigger the battle screen and then the game takes on a typical fighting game atmosphere.
While you won’t find any advanced moves or combos like DOA or Tekken there is a fairly challenging if not simplistic fighting engine here that includes light and heavy melee and magic attacks. There is a bit of thinking involved but often the fighting devolves into a button masher that focuses more on timing and your ability to dodge and attack.
Despite the simple nature of the mechanics of fighting there are some other strategic elements you have to keep on your radar. The elemental type of the hex will either help or hurt in your battle unless you are on neutral terrain. And while combat is reserved to the fighting screens, you can engage in spellcasting and powerful attacks in the map view provided you have enough mana to summon those spells.
There is a substantial campaign mode as well as multiplayer support for up to four players, but the lack of Live support will force you to play locally. This game would have rocked online. There is also a lengthy tutorial that will help with the basics but will probably create more questions than it answers. You’ll likely be consulting the manual before it’s over.
There is also an ingenious army builder utility that lets you create your own units and assemble your own armies that you can use to challenge other players. Unfortunately there is no level editor. How simple would it have been to allow you to assemble your own cluster of hexes and design your own battlefields?
The first thing that will grab the attention of most of the male gamers are the female deities and their outrageously revealing outfits that look like they were painted on just enough to cover all the parts required to keep this game rated Teen. Even though these characters are simple in their design and seem to be geared more toward fantasy themed art than realism, they are still sexy as hell and fun to watch.
Units are creatively modeled and textured with fantasy-inspired textures that might surprise you. Throw everything you have ever envisioned of what a genie or unicorn might look like out the window and prepare yourself for something totally outrageous. These creatures are colorful and larger than life when you zoom in for the combat. Their representation on the map is much smaller and you’ll usually need to read their labels to identify them or any of the hexes you might want to move to.
Animation is really nice, even though there are only a handful of melee moves for each creature. The spells feature wonderful special effects and the various landscapes are inventive and almost distracting. You’ll have to quickly admire the scenery before that unicorn impales you.
You are free to pan and zoom around the hex map and even switch to a top-down view for a more traditional hex-strategy experience. Once you engage in combat the computer controlled camera is extremely intelligent zooming in when the combatants are near and pulling out when they move to opposite sides of the screen.
The soundtrack is exceptional in quality and reaches epic fantasy proportions in its intensity and variety. Each elemental unit has their own theme while moving around the battlefield and the music picks up during combat for some exciting action moments. My only minor complaint is that there isn’t a lot of music and this is one of those games you will be playing for a long time so it will eventually get repetitive.
The voice acting is really good and while there is a certain amount of “cheese factor” involved, it’s almost a necessity to make the fanciful and overly dramatic plot work. The voices fit the characters and the dialogue fits the era and style of the drama.
Sound effects are all in place and work great. You have plenty of supernatural sounding spells along with more realistic stomping, howling, and trampling of hooves of charging creatures as they clash together in thunderous collisions. I can only imagine how much better this game would have sounded in Dolby Digital.
You get to play Wrath Unleashed from the perspective of several deities, each with their own custom elemental army. You can expect about 8-10 hours of play per campaign and then you have the multiplayer modes that will give you a bit more extended gameplay. The army builder was a nice touch but without a map editor to go along with it, it probably won’t hold your interest for more than a few hours.
Online play would have been a coup for this title and if there is a sequel or special edition of Wrath Unleashed in our future I can only hope that it supports Xbox Live.
Wrath Unleashed in an interesting mix of traditional board game strategy and arcade fighting action; a hybrid concept that is so cool I can’t believe it took somebody 20 years to revisit it.
While I can think of plenty of minor tweaks and improvements that would make this game even better, as is, Wrath Unleashed is a bold and innovative concept that will delight both strategy and action gamers who enjoy challenging gameplay, fantasy creatures, spells, and sexy goddesses. A definite must have for your Xbox collection if you crave any of these things.